My Applied Linguistics course confronts several issues of language and literacy, one of which is learning a foreign language and the persistent monolingualism of the United States. As someone who can be considered proficient in a second language (I did manage to get around Spain for two months), I always feel a bit of smugness that I don't fall into the "monolingual" category.
Then, however, I run into students from all over the world who not only know two languages, but usually are proficient in three or four, and have a working knowledge of several others. It's crazy how sheltered we are when it comes to language.
The Chronicle of Higher Education published a commentary on the the foreign language requirement for English graduate students. The author, Edward White, thinks programs should be more serious about the requirement--which means bringing it to students' awareness before they start graduate school.
White is absolutely correct. Graduate programs shouldn't get rid of the foreign language requirement because there are valid reasons for its existence. The advantages to learning a foreign language are numerous, one of which is a better understanding of your own language--several concepts in English clicked for me after I started learning Spanish. Also, there is more to literary studies than English literature (or literature in English). Being able to familiarize oneself to other languages is a step toward learning about other cultures, philosophies, and a rich world literature.
I'm looking forward to PhD school when I have the excuse and opportunity to learn another language. I always debate on what it'll be: French? German? Greek? More students should learn foreign language--and help reverse the trend that classifies Americans as persistently monolingual.